Paranormal Activity 3 – the latest chapter in the low-budget haunted-house saga begun in 2007 by D.I.Y. filmmaker Oren Peli – is presented as a prequel to 2010’s Paranormal Activity 2 which itself was a prequel of sorts to the first film. Taking the helm for the latest found-footage foray is the directing duo of Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost whose 2010 debut the Facebook documentary Catfish provided chills of a more existential variety. (It also encountered a fair share of skepticism about its authenticity which in an odd way makes the filmmakers uniquely qualified to direct a film like this.)
Schulman and Joost know better than to tinker with a proven formula – the first two films grossed over $370 million worldwide combined – and their film for the most part employs the same straightforward premise and stripped down approach as its predecessors. The only real difference is the time period: Whereas the first two films took place in the recent past Paranormal Activity 3 turns the clock all the way back to 1988 when young sisters Katie and Kristi purportedly first came into contact with otherworldly houseguests. (I say “purportedly” because nothing is ever certain in this genre.)
The girls’ troubles begin shortly after their single mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) invites her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith notable only for his resemblance to former Gonzaga point guard Dan Dickau) to move in with them. A professional wedding videographer with a host of camera and editing equipment at his disposal Dennis is conveniently equipped to chronicle the events that ensue. What follows is standard Paranormal Activity protocol. It begins with a few seemingly innocuous late-night stirrings followed by more ominous occurrences. Furniture gets rearranged. A light fixture falls from the ceiling. Soon the spirit – or whatever it is – grows more bold befriending the youngest sister Kristi who nicknames it “Toby.” And just what does Toby want exactly? If Kristi knows she isn’t telling.
The plot of Paranormal Activity 3 is pretty much rubbish so I suppose we should be thankful there’s only enough of it to provide context to the scares. The majority of them are exceedingly cheap more the product of aggressive sound design than anything else – and yet still maddeningly effective. (There are a handful of truly devious jump cuts for which the filmmakers should frankly be ashamed.) You jump from your seat and immediately curse yourself for doing so.
The found-footage genre is now established enough that we are well-trained to its devices. It’s one reason why these films are so much better when experienced with a large crowd preferable late in the evening. As we collectively scan the static frame for traces of movement the briefest glimpse of a supernatural presence it feels like a collective game of “Where’s Waldo ” the winner declared in an excited terrified gasp. Played alone it just seems stupid.
Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) are lifelong best friends obsessed with getting married -- and more importantly having the perfect wedding at New York’s Plaza Hotel. Except there’s a glitch: Their June weddings get scheduled for the same Saturday and no other date is available for three years! When neither agrees to move to a different venue the battle is on. And the pranks: There’s Emma’s disastrous trip to a tanning salon where her skin becomes solid orange and Liv’s appointment at a beauty salon where her blonde locks are turned mysteriously blue.
Adding this to her recent list of dumb comedies like My Best Friend's Girl and Fool's Gold Hudson is in need of a serious career intervention. Her character here a supposedly smart lawyer who will sink to ANY depths to get married and have a dream wedding just doesn’t mesh. It’s SO 50 years ago that feminists watching these two engage in a knock-down drag-out fight over a hotel ballroom will recoil in horror. And after all that acclaim for Rachel Getting Married Hathaway should just find a place to hide – though to be fair in one or two scenes she does manage to find a shred of believability. Too bad it’s not nearly enough. Although it starts out with a bit of promise director Gary Winick clearly just sat back as the proceedings spun out of control with one ridiculous scene after another. Of course he isn’t given much help by Greg DePaul CaseyWilson and June Diane Raphael’s waaaaaaay over-the-top screenplay which reduces these two apparent friends into babbling morons. Those interested in witnessing two women demean themselves for 90 minutes should have a lot of fun.
The big-screen live-action adaptation mostly captures the look and feel of the ‘60s cartoon many of us grew up watching. It could have used a few more occurrences of our favorite line “Look out Speed! AH!” but oh well. As it goes Speed (Emile Hirsch) has grown up with motor oil pumping through his veins helping his Pops (John Goodman) make racecars and idolizing his older brother Rex (Scott Porter) a top-notch driver. Then tragedy strikes when Rex is seemingly killed in an accident. Heartbroken Speed is determined to take his place showing some serious skills on the track. His girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) thinks he’s the bomb as do his mom (Susan Sarandon) younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim. But Speed is soon in for a rude awakening when he is introduced to the corrupt world of auto racing forcing him to team up with the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) to make it right again. Go Speed go! The usually somber Hirsch--who is best known for his indie work in films such as Alpha Dog and Into the Wild--seems at first an odd choice to play Speed. But his seriousness works well against the campiness surrounding him especially in the more emotional moments. Same goes for Fox as the stoic Racer X. Still one can’t help but think of him as his Lost alter ego in a dark glasses and a mask. The rest of the cast just has way too much fun including Ricci as the cute-as-a-button-but-full-of-moxie Trixie Goodman as the blowhard Pops and especially young Litt as Spritle. Out of all Speed’s animated characters re-envisioned Litt does the best job capturing Spritle’s cartoon mischievousness. The monkey ain’t bad either. Chim-Chim AH! Oh those Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry). They sure do like to come up with as many inventive ways to visually stimulate you as they can don’t they? Their Matrix series set CGI on fire--and now Speed Racer which quite literally takes you inside a video game the Wii or Xbox could only dream of ever creating. The film is virtual eye candy from start to finish--a mixture of Tim Burton-esque colorful sets wild adrenaline-filled special effects and constant camera movements. They may actually need to post a warning for those who suffer from motion sickness. However Speed’s main problem which is the same problem the Matrix franchise suffered from is its tendency to overanalyze the plot. The Wachowskis love to preach turning a scene about the racing world’s corrupt beginning into a 15-minute diatribe. They try to combine the campiness of the animated TV series with serious undertones but it only weighs the film down. You can feel the kids in the audience tapping their feet waiting for more action. So let’s just give the kids what they want: fast-paced excitement wrapped up in a colorful package.